Denver Bar Association
October 2000
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When It's Time To Let Go

by Mel Reveles

When IS it time to buy a new computer? Learn tips and tricks to refurbish your old one,
and information on how to buy a new one.

by Mel Reveles, CBA Web Master

Like a new car that you've just driven off the lot, your new PC will depreciate within weeks (usually at the next release of the super-fast, next generation chip that processes a zillion operations per nanosecond).

It's impossible to have the latest and greatest PC for more than a few months; nor should this be your goal (unless you secretly covet the title of "techie-geek").

This bleeding-edge is too expensive and can be quite painful to your pocketbook and family life. Instead, pick a PC that will do what you need it to do with a little extra growing room. With the virtually unlimited options that are available these days, you can customize a PC that will meet your needs for the next few years, the average life-span of a PC.

You may extend this lifespan through various upgrades, but the upgrade-ability of your old PC eventually will be maxed-out by the incompatibilities between your old hardware and the new hardware out on the market. Then, it's to the back of the barn with a shotgun aimed at your antiquated heap of plastic and metal.

But before you reach this point, ask yourself, "Should I upgrade my old PC or should I just buy a new one?"

The answer depends on who is asking the question and what that person's needs are.

These needs are best defined by the software you will be using. If you still have the original copies of your old software and are fine sticking with this original setup, you can probably upgrade your old PC for less than the cost of replacing it. There are many items in this option that must be addressed.

First, are you a hobbyist with some understanding of how a computers work?

Are you willing to roll up your sleeves and give it try on your own, or will you be paying someone to do the upgrades? Unfortunately, technical assistance these days is expensive. Depending on the level of complexity of your upgrade, you can end up paying more for a tech's time than the components themselves.

Also, is your old PC still under warranty?

Can it handle expansion? If so, how much will the individual components add up to? Say, for example, you want to upgrade the hard drive. You would be hard-pressed to find a hard drive smaller than 10 gigabytes. Making your old system understand a hard drive this big will require a few strokes of the magic wand (especially if you're running Windows 95).

Brace yourself, because the days of cheap memory are over for now. Realize that you're simply putting off the inevitable. As said earlier, your computer will reach a level where it will not be expandable anymore. You may spend $300-$400 upgrading, but why bother when you can buy a new PC for around $1,000?

Let's move on to the other option: replacement. If you want to run newer versions of software, you should seriously consider buying a new PC rather than upgrading.

Software released today is often referred to as "bloatware." This term was coined for good reason. Often, the need to upgrade or replace your PC is because of the demand new software places on a system. A typical installation of Windows 98 takes about 120 megabytes. A typical installation of Microsoft Office 2000 will take about 250 megabytes--a nominal amount of hard disk space in today's world of 20-plus gigabyte hard drives (1,024 megabytes equals one gigabyte). Neither should be run on a computer with less than 64 megabytes of RAM.

How much hand-holding do you think you'll need with the purchase and setup of your new system?

If you think you'll need a significant amount of assistance, look for a good local shop. Find out if they are willing to support the machine (software, too) after the sale.

What parts are covered in the warranty and for how long are they covered?

What software is included in the purchase?

Do you have to ship it away to get it fixed or can you take it into a shop? While the big-name manufacturers offer easy, online ordering with great prices, you may get lost among the masses of customers. Find out how much support is included in the cost of the PC. And, when something breaks, you may be required to ship the unit back to be fixed. Considering the weight of PCs, this could get expensive.

So, when will it all end? Not anytime soon. The bigger hard drives, faster processor chips, higher-end graphics cards, etc. will continue to be released within several months of the last release.

You will always need to upgrade or replace your PC about every three years. Now is as good of a time as any to buy that new PC. Then, resist the urge to look at any computer related ads for at least six months.

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